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"Crossing the Line", barn raising parties, expeditionary forces, Boy Scouts helping little old ladies across the street, the American Chapter of the Red Cross, Rotary projects - all these and many others are powerful images of what has been an American characteristic - volunteerism.
On a frontier there are many needs and many opportunities to help each other out. Margaret Meed and Rhoda Metraud sum up this need in "Aspects of the Present",
"We live in a society that always has depended on volunteers of different kinds -- some who can give money, others who give time, and a great many who will freely give their special skills, full-time or part-time. If you look closely you will see that almost anything that really matters to us, anything that embodies our deepest commitment to the way human life should be lived and cared for depends on some for -- more often, many forms -- of volunteerism."
When I returned to Kansas City in June of 1995 to assist my Mother in eldercare I immediately started looking for areas in which to do some volunteer work. My school district had specified that I was not to be gainfully employed during the leave they granted me to care for Mother. Outside of the normal house hold duties, I had plenty of time to offer, although I needed to be close to home to prepare meals and take care of some areas where Mother was physically unable to cope.
Mother has been a volunteer throughout her life. I remember her helping with elementary school field trips, as a Cub Scout den mother, as the person in charge of the nursery at Roanoke Baptist Church, as a volunteer at the Raytown YWCA and finally as a volunteer in the gift shop of Baptist Memorial Hospital. She and I both recognized that I needed some outside interest even though my primary objective was to help her continue to live at her home of 40 years as self sufficiently as possible.
In early August I saw a notice on the One Crossroads Place Bulletin Board that has provided an outlet for my needs, has given me the opportunity to help some others through volunteer work on two frontiers, and has lead to learning a great deal more about eldercare. I became a volunteer CoSysop (Co Systems Operator) for One Crossroads Place.
Now Mother was very surprised the day I announced that I was going to my volunteer job, prepared myself a cup of coffee and headed for the basement just like I had been doing for the last month and a half.
"You are just going down there to piddle with that computer again!" she said accusingly.
"Nope, I am going down stairs to WORK on my computer as a volunteer at the BBS."
"What kind of volunteer job is that? If you are going to work with people you need to get a haircut, take a shower each day, get dressed up, fight the elements and traffic and stand on your feet all day - that is what a volunteer does!" she said.
"Not any more Mother - I am a virtual volunteer." but I knew that she was speaking from experience and that it would take awhile for her to understand how the cyberfrontier was changing the world.
Over the months we have spent many hours talking about my volunteer work on the BBS - it has become a real common ground for us and something to talk about beside the neighbors, the weather and our health. We still get plenty of those discussions in but my "work" has been a real learning experience for both of us. She can see my enthusiasm each time I come up from the basement - she has caught some of it - keeping me informed each time anything comes up on the television related to computers or the Internet.
Basically I try to help people learn how to use the BBS for fun and business. If they have an access problem, an account question or a suggestion about the board - they write me an e-mail (or call) and I try to help them solve their problem. Of course, I have had to learn (and am still learning) these things myself, but as a teacher I know that the best way to learn something is by teaching it to someone else.
Although getting to the basement is difficult for Mother now she has come down a number of times to see what this work is all about. She has seen the bulletin board in operation, visited her son's Home Page in Alaska and seen her adorable greatgrand children's' pictures on the World Wide Web.
Last month we found A Reference Manual For Senior Citizens on the World Wide Web from Walter Chaney email@example.com . The book with large print and 445 pages of great information is called the Second Fifty Years and was designed especially for seniors (and about to be seniors - like me). The book is FREE - there is a modest charge for shipping and handling and Mother has been reading it steadily every day since it arrived.
The sections of the book that she read first and most closely were: Aid and Organizations, Assistance For Seniors, and Health Problems. She has been a senior for sometime now so she said she was familiar with most of the material. She went on to say that it was very interesting, was easy to read and would be particularly interesting to those just entering their senior years.
The Second Fifty Years devotes some space to Volunteering for Seniors. Included are some excellent reasons for volunteering, a list of volunteering opportunities, and some specialized volunteer programs such as the American Cancer Society, Consumer Product Safety Program, Fish and Wildlife Service, and AARP's Volunteer Talent Bank.
Outside of your personal reasons for volunteering, Walter's book lists many other practical reasons for getting involved in the gift of giving. Among them:
* Studies show that people who volunteer live longer, healthier, and happier lives. * It provides a way to be useful, help others, and do good deeds. * It is an excellent way to focus your thoughts away from your own problems.
Volunteerism is good for anyone at any age on any frontier. For many it is often the first step to a change in direction in life's course. It can also be an excellent end to a useful life.
The Greater Kansas City Chapter of the American Red Cross recognizes eldercare as a frontier area and has taken steps to meet the challenge of a rapidly changing population. They have developed a "cutting edge" program: "Home Care: Skills For the Family Caregiver" which offers an eight hour course designed with the lay caregiver in mind.
Next month I plan to report on this course after a "hands on" experience. In the meantime, you can check for more information about the Red Cross program at http://www.kcmo.com/redcross
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